March 02, 2010

Intuit's Mint and TurboTax Have Your Finances Summed Up

It may only be the beginning of March, but our home's taxes are already done. It's a yearly tradition of sorts to head online, capture all relevant data, and trick Uncle Sam into giving us a refund in time to blow it all on the Final Four (not really). That's due to my leveraging TurboTax online, which gets easier every year, considering how it comes pre-linked to the prior year's data. Now, with Intuit also owning the personal finance site (and awesome iPhone app), the same company keeps my data organized all year round - and with tax time being a good opportunity to look backwards, I thought I would highlight some of Mint's more interesting options.

While much of's focus has been on trying to find ways for you to save money, for example, by switching from one credit card to another, or finding a new brokerage firm, I have been watching my Mint activity to help see whether we have been breaking even this month, if our family is within budget, or through getting alerts on high expenditures and deposits. Mint has become one of my most frequently-used iPhone applications and Web sites, especially as I've managed starting the new consultancy in the middle of last year, transitioning from my full-time role with a more stable income. Shows Half My Spend Was from 10 Merchants in 2009

As you know, doing one's taxes helps to bring clarity into the last twelve months. It gives you a sum total of what you earned, what you took home, what you were able to deduct, and how much you gave to the government. But it doesn't show you details on your spending. Mint does.

If you are a Mint user, you can walk through your spending history, and if organized well, you can see where your money is going - to your house, to your groceries, utilities, car, or entertainment, to name a few categories. After logging into Mint, click Trends, and choose Spending By Merchant.

Clicking Mint's "Other" Category Shows Me Merchants 11-20

I selected the 2009 period, and found, unsurprisingly, that 5% of our home's expenditures went to Safeway. What was a surprise is that we had more than 100 transactions at Safeway, which meant either my wife or I was going to the grocery store every 3 or 4 days (some days had multiple charges). The most we ever spent at Safeway was $208.32, and the least was a mere $5.49. In contrast, expenditures at Apple just exceeded 1% of all spending last year, less than 2 percent overall. Meanwhile, no doubt the result of having twin toddlers, and their being invited to other baby showers and friends' birthdays, there were more than 20 expenditures at Toys R Us, good enough to have gotten me a brand new MacBook Pro with all the fixings.

Just like you no doubt do when you look backward at your previous year's investments, there are purchases on my history that make me cringe - as I look at air travel to events that proved less than useful, or wonder about whether I should have given so much money to Adobe, or raise my eyebrows at the more than $1,100 spent at Chevron in 32 separate transactions. But the more I look at the data, the smarter a consumer I become, as I use the information to change my behavior, and constantly look at Mint to see if I am on track.

Everything I have heard from my occasional talks with people at Intuit is that's being set to replace Quicken Online is that Quicken was seen as a tool for the last generation - the one who balanced their checkbooks to the penny. isn't yet integrated with TurboTax, but I would assume having the two properties under the same roof offers plenty of potential. The question is, can you take advantage?